The Taoiseach and four Fine Gael ministers have declined to express support for ‘swing-gate’ TD Maria Bailey who is facing possible deselection as a general election candidate this evening.
Speaking to reporters at a Climate Action event, Leo Varadkar said the issue was one for party members in Ms Bailey’s Dun Laoghaire constituency to decide.
“I have full confidence in any candidate who is selected and ratified to run for our party but we are a democratic party and it is the members in the constituencies who make that decision and I don’t want to say anything more about it for that reason,” he said.
Health Minister Simon Harris said grassroots members of Fine Gael would not appreciate somebody interfering in a key meeting due to take place in the constituency.
“I think it would be extraordinarily unhelpful and rude for anybody not a member of that constituency to interfere in that democratic process,” he said.
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan said it would be inappropriate to get involved. Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also declined to comment.
A motion is to be debated tonight at a meeting of the local Fine Gael organisation seeking a review of the candidates selected for the next general election, expected to be held in the spring.
The political future of Ms Bailey will be decided by secret ballot tonight.
In an unusual move, members of the party's Dún Laoghaire branch will not have to openly declare their position on the constituency's election ticket.
But sources told the Irish Independent they expect "sparks to fly" when upwards of 100 people gather to discuss how best to secure two seats at the next election.
They will vote on a motion calling on Fine Gael's hierarchy to "urgently review" the ticket and "make any changes necessary in order to improve our prospects in the forthcoming general election".
While the motion makes no direct reference to Ms Bailey, it is openly interpreted as "judgment day" for the embarrassment that was inflicted on the party as a result of her compensation claim for a fall from a swing.
Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Councillor Barry Ward have already been selected to represent Fine Gael alongside Ms Bailey.
It's understood only 15 minutes has been set aside for members to air their views - but the time is likely to be extended on the demand of attendees.
Party members expect Ms Bailey and a number of her supporters to defend her position.
She has already expressed a determination to contest the election.
Afterwards delegates, who must be members of the local branch, will be given a piece of paper and asked to privately cast their vote.
"Normally any votes would be taken by a show of hands so it's extremely unusual to have a secret ballot," one source said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday said he would review the outcome of any local discussion.
A team headed up by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is in charge of deciding the party's election strategy - but given the sensitivity of this case Mr Varadkar will be closely consulted.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Donohoe said: "We have to listen to what members say, we’re a democratic organisation, I’m conscious that the decision and discussion will be happening tonight.
"If I look at all that Maria has gone through, it’s clear that mistakes were made, that things could have been handled and handled differently and better, I know the different concerns this has raised with the public, I have to say alongside that, I worked with Maria for many years now as a TD for Dun Laoghaire, and she has been an exceptionally hard working and professional TD as well.
“I think she is a candidate for Fine Gael and there will be a discussion happening about this tonight, she’s been a deeply conscientious TD, there have been difficult issues and difficult problems for her and for us have been caused by what’s happened over the last number of months and I know that this is a catalyst for discussion which will be happening tonight.”
Newly elected councillor Jennifer Carroll MacNeill has been tipped as a possible replacement if Ms Bailey is axed.
The party could also decide to simply drop the first-time TD and adopt a two-candidate approach.
"We're a party of democracy. Members select our candidates.
"We have the power to add and subtract but generally it's members who select the candidates," Mr Varadkar said.
"As the leader of a democratic party, we'll listen to what they have to say."
Asked whether he would act on foot of tonight's meeting in Dún Laoghaire, the Fine Gael leader replied: "Let's see what they say first."
Party headquarters has commissioned private polling in the constituency which suggests it will have a battle against a resurgent Fianna Fáil.
A number of sources contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday have expressed sympathy for Ms Bailey's predicament.
However, others noted that her presence in a campaign "will create a downer".
One member noted that the local constituency hasn't had a proper chance to discuss the swing-gate controversy since the story was broken by this newspaper last May.
Ms Bailey took a case against the Dean Hotel claiming it was liable for a fall she suffered in July 2015.
Court papers cited a number of injuries and claimed she was unable to run "at all" for three months after the incident.
However, it emerged she ran a 10km race within three weeks of the fall.
An internal Fine Gael report into Ms Bailey's claim against the hotel on Dublin's Harcourt Street found her affidavit "overstated the impact of her injuries".